An Alpine Interlude

Alpine Easter Show 2013

Alpine Easter Show 2013

There is no ‘My Garden This Weekend’  post this week as I have been away at an Alpine Garden Society conference near Stratford for the weekend.  Alpines are a new fascination for me and I discovered the Alpine Garden Society a year ago when someone directed me to their wonderful seed – in my opinion the best seed distribution scheme available.

I quickly discovered that the term ‘Alpine’ does not exclusively refer to the cushion plants you see exhibited in large pots on the show circuit, such as Draba and Dionysia.  The Alpine Garden Society’s interest is far more extensive.  The definition of ‘Alpine’ in the Society show handbook says:

The term covers all plants, including shrubs, suitable for cultivation in a rock garden of moderate size or in an unheated frame or alpine house.  It excludes any plants which will not survive an average British winter under such conditions but includes any plants which do not necessarily grow in mountainous regions

The archetypal cushion plants
The archetypal cushion plants

Essentially,  if you think about mountainous areas there are a wide range of habitats below the extreme scree and rocky summits.  In some areas, such as Sikkim,  China and North America, the lower slopes are predominantly woodland so you have such plants as Peonies, Trilliums, Epimediums, Ferns, Erythronium and Arisaema.  There are the alpine meadows from where we get Primulas, Silene, Aquilegia, Delphinium.  Then there are the bulbs, virtually all bulbs you can think of are classed as Alpines although some from areas of Southern Hemisphere are sometimes not counted if they need heat over our  winter.  So you see there is far far more to the world of alpines than the neat cushion plants.

It isn’t just the wide range of plants covered that I enjoy about the society it is the members and the wealth of knowledge they happily share.  I have been to a number of local horticultural societies and it wasn’t until I joined some specialist societies: the Alpine Garden Society and the Hardy Plant Society that I met the really passionate plants people whose company I enjoy and knowledge I feed off.  I naively thought I was fairly knowledgeable before I joined these societies but I soon realised that there is a vast world of plants out there that  I have never heard of until now. I  have mentioned during the year the two shows I have attended and my experience of helping with the seed distribution scheme. 

AGS seed distribution scheme
AGS seed distribution scheme

This weekend I have spent two whole days completely immersed in the world of alpines and I have learnt so much as well.  The theme of the conference was a Celebration of European Alpines – going back to the original focus  of the society when it formed some 83 years ago.  We have travelled all over the place from Kop Dag in Turkey, through Northern Spain, the French Alps, the Mountains of the Balkans ending up in Greece, oh and with a brief side step to Snowdonia (my favourite  talk).  We heard about the alpine area of Kew Garden from its curator, we learnt how to propagate through cuttings, division and grafting and finally, and a little challenging for me, we heard about the classification and endless reclassification of European orchids.  There were a number of nurseries,  including the wonderful Aberconwy Nursery and a vast array of books to buy.  As  year old member there was a whole host of new people to meet although I knew a few from my local group.  People are friendly and generous with their knowledge and don’t seem to flinch when you ask what you think are silly questions.

The Plant Auction
The Plant Auction

One of the highlights was the plant auction held after the dinner on Saturday evening.  There had been various donations of plants including from conifers from Ashwood Nurseries and some 20 slipper orchids  from Harry Jans of JansAlpines.  There was fierce bidding with a pot of 3 snowdrop bulbs (a rare variety whose name escapes me) going for around £90  and the slipper orchids going for £25 – £75 a pot.  I put my toe in the water briefly and ‘won’ a bag of 50 narcissus  bulbs for £16.  I need to look up the variety but I am sure they aren’t that run of the mill.

I have really enjoyed myself, although I am quite tired this evening and feel that I need a few days break from plants, and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who is really interested in plants that they should consider joining a specialist society especially the Alpine Garden Society.

A few purchases
A few purchases

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Helen, looks like you had a great time, surrounded by real planty types.
    And thank you for supplying some interesting links in your blog, (could get expensive), but I have to ask, in your last picture, can you tell me what that lovely looking gold leaved plant is..?

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      It’s Epimedium grandiflorum ‘red beauty’

    2. Helen Johnstone says:

      Sorry for abrupt response was balancing plant label and iPad. It was great and a fun weekend

  2. Richard FM Conlon says:

    You’re definitely not talking to yourself (well, maybe you do when in the potting shed – I do!). Very interesting read. As you say, it is both fascinating and reassuring to be around and in contact with like-minded people. Thanks.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Richard
      At least the plants in the potting shed don’t talk back. Glad you enjoyed the post

  3. Cathy says:

    Glad you enjoyed the conference Helen and didn’t feel out of place with all theses knowledgeable people – but of course your knowledge is increasing all the time too.That epemedium does indeed look lovely, will perhaps look out for it

  4. sueturner31 says:

    Fantastic and I think you had the better w/e in Stratford …..but hubby wouldn’t think so…

  5. Hi Helen, sounds like a really wonderful weekend, but no wonder you are tired, learning so much new stuff is exhausting though from the sound of it also rather exhilerating! Your excitement fair fizzled through the post. Beautiful looking epimedium you came away with. I had no idea the definition of alpines was so broad, and included so many of my favourite plants.

  6. Yvonne Ryan says:

    Two memorable times I have seen our mountain plants was on top of Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf about 3000ft hiigh. These tiny exquisite hardy plants clinging to the harsh windy rocky mountain. Another time was in summer up Mt Ruapehu, one of the volcanoes in the middle of the North Island – Huge vocanic rocks and then these tiny beautiful plants! My camera took many photos! Then in witnter it is all covered in snow and skiers are zooming over it! I just bought two rhodohypoxis, lovely little pink flower that come from South Africa so they wouldn’t count as Alpine in England. Had my first swim in pool yesterday! 23 degrees so nice and warm!

  7. Anna says:

    Sounds like it was a most positive learning experience Helen and that you were in good company.
    We all ask those seemingly silly questions at times even the experts. Now when you’ve recovered you must tell us more about your purchases 🙂

  8. VP says:

    Looks like you had a fab time – my last trip to Stratford was to sing, though we did find time for a garden visit in the lunch break!

  9. bittster says:

    Thanks for the link to your seed exchange post, very interesting! I always wondered about the ins and outs of all that organizing and seed moving.
    The alpines look great. I’m looking forward to seeing how your potted bulbs turn out!

  10. Good to read you had a great time and didn’t come home empty handed (no normal person would, would they ;0). How I wish my work hours allowed me to join a similar society but sadly no. Maybe one day when I retire!

  11. Rick says:

    I have just found your excellent blog and I can well understand your enthusiasm, unfortunately as a member of the AGS for many years, and although I now am unable to grow the “true” alpines but cultivate many meconopsis and primulas, I have to say that society seed in general is becoming more hit and miss and after acquiring seed that is nothing like the name on the packet on many occasions the ultimate irony is that I will not contribute to the seed lists because I am not 100% certain of what I am supplying, however this is mainly because the genera that I am concerned with are particularly difficult. I think the AGS seed list, although excellent has become too big to manage and in my experience the best supplier by far is the Scottish Rock Garden Club who seem to have a really tight hold on what is available and from whom I have had the best results.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Rick
      I havent experienced the same problems with you regarding the AGS seed list and I know many others are enthusiastic about it. I also know that there were some problems with the quality of seeds a few years back but the lady in charge of the seed distribution list has worked very hard to improve the quality and others were agreeing at the weekend how good the seed scheme was now.

  12. I didn’t realise the definition of Alpines was so broad. Sounds like a great conference. Tiring maybe, but how exciting to be able to talk to so many people about alphines. Thanks Helen, a really interesting read.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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